Previewing the Pascrell-Rothman Primary in New Jersey
New Jersey's 9th Congressional District plays host to another member-versus-member House primary on Tuesday. Reps. Bill Pascrell and Steve Rothman face each other in a merged seat after redistricting. The primary between two former friends has been notably bad-tempered, but the specifics of what they've said matters less than what the two candidates are trying to accomplish. Each is trying to replicate a tried-and-true strategy from previous merged seat primaries: Drive up turnout in the home base, and drive down the opponent's percentage of support on the other side of the district.
Both candidates settled early on consistent messaging to peel off the other's support. Pascrell charged Rothman with being a disloyal Democrat because he chose to run against Pascrell instead of a Republican incumbent, Rep. Scott Garrett, in a neighboring district. Rothman also laid claim to the "real Democrat" mantle, by criticizing Pascrell's positions on abortion and a few other subjects and touting his earlier support of same-sex marriage and President Obama -- Rothman was the only New Jersey member of Congress to endorse Obama in the 2008 presidential primary.
The open question is whose strategy will be more effective at peeling off voters from the other's territory. That has been the key factor in the close member-versus-member contests earlier this cycle, even when the winning candidate had fewer old constituents in the new district. In Illinois's 16th District, GOP Rep. Adam Kinzinger defeated fellow Republican Don Manzullo on the strength of an 80-plus percent showing in the district's southern counties, from Kinzinger's old district. Meanwhile, Kinzinger held Manzullo to 72 percent in his base further north. In Pennsylvania's 12th District, Democratic Rep. Mark Critz racked up about 90 percent of the vote in the eastern counties, his home base, while holding Altmire to 70 percent in the western section of the district.